Mom dogs move their puppies from one nesting location to another, or bring a wayfaring baby back to the safety of the litter, by carrying the puppies by the scruffs of their necks. Sometimes mom dogs also will carry young puppies by putting a puppy's entire head in their mouths.
By the Scruff
The most common way mother dogs carry their young babies is by the scruff of the neck. The scruff is the loose skin behind the puppies' heads. Most often, you'll see the mother dog grab the loose skin at the back of her puppy's neck in her front teeth. The puppy will dangle from her mouth as she carries him from one location to another. It isn't uncommon or dangerous, however, for a mother dog to put a very young puppy's entire head in her mouth for transport.
When mom dog picks up her baby to move him from one location to another, the puppy most often goes limp as soon as his feet leave the ground. Most puppies seem to be perfectly relaxed when traveling with mom via the scruffs of their necks. Many puppies will let all their muscles go lax and close their eyes, appearing to sleep as they are transported from one location to another. You occasionally may hear a puppy whimper or see him squirm when being transported by mom, but this is uncommon.
Mom will transport her puppies only by carrying them for the first few weeks of their lives. Once they start to move about on their own, she will use her body language and other means of communicating to tell her puppies where they are to go. Her reasons for carrying her puppies in the early weeks always are about the babies' safety. Mother dogs carry their puppies to a different location when their instinct tells them that their current location is unsafe. A mother dog also may carry a lone puppy back to the safety of the litter if he crawls too far way from the protection of his family.
Only the mother dog should carry puppies by the scruffs of their necks. Mom knows instinctively when the puppies have outgrown this means of transportation, and her instincts also tell her how to carry her babies so that she doesn't cause them pain or fear. A human should pick up a puppy by cradling him gentling with a hand beneath the baby's rib cage.
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.